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Mikketz 5772

Haftarah Parshat Miketz
Shabbat Hanukkah
(Zechariah 2:14 – 4:7)
December 24, 2011
28 Kislev 5772

The second blessing that we recite over the Hanukkah candles is not simple to understand: “Sh’asah nisim bayamim hahem bazman hazeh” It is usually translated: “who performed miracles for our ancestors in those days, at this time.” It was not always clear to all that this is the meaning of the blessing. Some added a “vav” before “bazman” to make it mean “in those days and at this time”, namely, a miracle happened back then and now as well. This understanding reminds us that the challenges and the miracles of Hanukkah transcend time.

The historical challenges which faced the Jews in the times of the Maccabees did not begin with a military conflict. They started out benignly over how a little people would arbitrate its identity in the larger world. What did it mean to be Jewish in the Hellenistic world? For some, in the second century BCE, it meant to become totally Greek, to others it meant to integrate Greek ways into Jewish life, for some it meant to totally resist this integration. Back then, the total integration of some into Greek culture brought in its wake greater Greek involvement in Jewish internal affairs. Eventually the loss of Jewish identity ultimately led to the loss of independence. The miracle of the oil that everyone is familiar with has come to represent the victory of the Jewish spirit over those forces which would quash it.

Zechariah was a prophet known for fantastic and picturesque prophecies. One of his most famous prophetic images was of the golden menorah: “The angel who talked with me came back and woke me as a man wakened from sleep. He said to me: What do you see?’ And I answered: ‘I see a menorah all of gold… The lamps above it are seven in number…’” (4:1-3) It is difficult to ascertain the original significance of Zechariah’s prophetic representation of the Menorah in the Temple image but the meaning of this prophecy was not lost on future generations. Rabbi Yehudah Aryeh Leib Alter, the second Gerer Rebbe, saw in this image not only the most preeminent symbol of the Temple; for him, it also served as a symbol of what made the Jewish people both distinctive and independent. (See Sfat Emet Bereshit 5646) (It is interesting to note that Zechariah’s menorah was adopted as the symbol of the Jewish state.)

For the Sfat Emet, the light of the Menorah exists in the heart of every Jew in every generation. The miracle of Hanukkah is in keeping this “Menorah” lit – keeping our Jewish identity alive. We accomplish this task by lighting its candles. Its candles are the deeds – the mitzvoth which nurture its light. Deeds which not only commemorate a rich past but also nurture an exuberant present and future – “She’asa nisim bayamim hahen [u]bazman hazah- who performed miracles in those days and in these days” as well. (See Sfat Emet Hanukkah 5631)

About This Commentary

This study piece is offered as a service of the United Synagogue Conservative Yeshiva. It is prepared by Rabbi Mordechai (Mitchell) Silverstein, senior lecturer in  Talmud and Midrash at the Conservative Yeshiva.  He is a graduate of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America.

The United Synagogue Conservative Yeshiva in Jerusalem offers students of all backgrounds the skills for studying Jewish texts. We are a vibrant, open-minded egalitarian community of committed Jews who learn, practise and grow together. Our goal is to provide students the ability and desire to continue Jewish learning and practice throughout their lives.
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